As someone who has been in the growth hacking world for a while, I can honestly say I understand high stakes and the pressure of fast growth. I used to hate having to rush and come up with "hacks" to get more traffic, struggling to make time for actual conversations, connections, and the thing I love the most - creation. Now, I don't have to. Because the ONLY person who determines how fast my business grows is me.
Not just startups suffer from this affliction (Fastis Growthitis). I see everyone rushing for more traffic, more followers, more connections... and yet, each one of us has their own pace. And it seems to me - judging by the blog posts I've read - that not everyone is respecting their pace, which leads to burnout, sickness, and lower productivity.
I don't want this to happen to you. It's not a healthy or sane way to be. This year I promised myself I'd develop systems to make my business sustainable. And I am starting by asking some hard questions. Join me in answering them. :)
1. What is your #1 goal right now?
Pressure comes from great expectations, which come from big dreams. However, there's a way to have less pressure and keep your dreams big:
Determine your goal for the moment and work only on it.
I'm not telling you to forget your long-term goal. Not at all! I believe you should always keep it at the back of your mind and always remind yourself WHY you're doing this. But there's a difference between keeping something at the back of your mind and actually working towards it. If your goal is growing your mailing list right now, you should focus on expanding your reach, but if you're working on growing your shop first, the traffic can take second place. Focus can't be split, it needs to be concentrated.
For example, you can introduce different focus goals every month. This month mine are course creation and starting on sales funnels in Mailchimp. Having these tasks to complete, I won't be able to be networker supreme or coach extraordinaire, but that's OK. You can't be everything at once. Planning out your year in incremental milestones like this will allow you to not overwork yourself and reach the goals you set.
If you need help planning out your year, you can borrow my Calendar System. And be patient because results won't be there right away. Your ultimate goal is to do consistent work that will eventually take your business to The Tipping Point.
Finally, don't be afraid to iterate. Even though I have my plan for the next 4 months, I know that the plan might change any time I feel like it should change. If you follow the plan too strictly, you risk suffocating your creativity.
2. How flexible are your deadlines?
You say a dream is a goal without a deadline. Well, sure.
What about the stress we put ourselves under because of deadlines? Bosses can throw all the deadlines at you because the company pays you, but when you're your own boss, you don't have to be as rigid and cruel as them. I could never set a hard deadline without somehow managing to sabotage it. I've also tried adding extra time for cold feet, or in this case, sabotage. To no avail, when my mind knows the date, it KNOWS the date.
Now I prefer to say, "it's coming out in January". And if it comes out the first week of February, I don't beat myself up because I got the job done, didn't I?!
In the end, that's all you need to do: get the job done. Preferably without eating your hair. I mean, am I the only one suffering from Deadline Expandiatis? I doubt it. We all have our own creative afflictions, and we can so easily crack those.
3. Are you doing it for the money?
A lot of creative rebels I talk with say the same thing:
"My goal is not to make money but to leave a legacy behind."
More or less, everybody says this, and YET, they use money and traffic as "proof" of having made progress. Granted, business growth is all about making money, but If your primary purpose is something other than that, why do you insist on making it the metric against which everything else is measured?! That's just nonsense.
If your goal is to leave a legacy, shouldn't you be focused on your message and the content you produce? The contacts you've made? The number of people you've helped? The number of publications you've amassed in your library?
Think long and hard about the metric you put in the center of your business. (tweet this)
Traffic is for vanity, money is inconsequential, and having a big social following means nothing if they're not engaged. I'd much rather hear you talk about the people you have helped and put "word-of-mouth" as the main metric in your marketing strategy, or decide to focus on building a tribe of true fans. (Seth Godin says you only need 1000.)
Engagement, retention, sustainability, joy... these are all important metrics. Those are the things you should strive and work for, not the money. Because the money will come, but if you start with the idea of making money, it might never come.
4. What is more important - quality or speed?
In a perfect world, both would be possible at once. It's not a perfect world. And the way you prioritize your business will very much define its limits.
Imagine you're hiring a freelancer. Unless you're pressed by time, you would much rather they took the time to do a really good job than do it fast and come up with something not ideal. We'd all choose the quality, not the speed of delivery.
I mean, fiverr is great, but every time I pay for something, it comes back to me super fast and botched up. It's understandable seeing as the price is $5, but still, I'd much rather pay $50, but have the job done much better and therefore slower.
Riddle me this: Would you rather grow your business fast or slow?
Think about it. In the startup world, there are deadlines, investors, deadly competition, a lot of pressure and a plethora of ideas, it's no wonder growth hacking became the norm. But it's not the same in the solopreneur world. The only person who sets your deadlines and determines the speed at which your business grows is YOU. The faster you go, the bigger the risk of botching up things is, and slower often means a better job.
Therefore you have the luxury of saying, Hey, I want to do this RIGHT.
5. Do you know your natural pace?
Other than choosing between quality and speed, you also have to realize that we are all different, and therefore our paces of operating are different. Your pace may be faster than my pace, and we must respect that in order to be good to ourselves.
Why is being good to yourself so important? Because when you're not good to yourself, you not only deplete your energy and stamina, but also invite all sorts of bad reactions to form into your body and mind. It might be the case that every time you overwork yourself, you get sick or start to self-sabotage, or get bored. The more you push against your biological clock, the harder it pushes back, and it has no patience for disrespect.
The only way to discover your natural pace is to test your limits.
For example, try to do different tasks at different times of day and see when you are most productive, creative, etc., and when you are most easily distracted. That way, you can plan your days around your biological clock. You can also see how often you procrastinate, why you do it, and how this knowledge can inform your schedule.
There are tons of ways to plan around your strengths, weaknesses, and natural pace. Just make sure you never underestimate the importance of self-awareness.
6. Are you experiencing burnout or sickness?
You have a built-in bullshit detector in your body. Whenever you push too hard or spend more energy than you have, you run a deficit and your body sounds the alarm. Basically, you get sick. Just answer the following questions if you please:
How often do you get sick? How many times is it related to stress?
Be honest. I know it's hard to slow down, especially when you're starting your business and the pressure is high, but you have to remember that sickness will slow you down, and what is worse, it can be dangerous. Just read Mariah's story.
My new strategy to avoid this is:
- I make sure that I know my limits and listen to my body.
- Whenever I feel a sickness coming on, I take the next day off.
- I take regular breaks throughout the day, every day.
- I take every Saturday off, so that I have renewed energy on Sunday.
- I am kind to myself and allow myself to take breaks.
Now say this with me: I have worked so hard. I deserve a break.
How did that feel? Like something heavy getting off your chest, right? That's your body's way of agreeing with you and its relief that the alarm that was about to sound off - for the dozenth time this month - is unnecessary.
7. What is essential and what is not.
When I talked to Jen Carrington the other day, she told me about a book that every single person I follow on twitter has recommended to me: Essentialism (The Discipline Pursuit of Less) by Greg McKeown. In the book, Greg proposes the essentialist's way as a solution to the typically modern affliction (Modernis Busytis). He says that:
Only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.
Focusing on the essential is the opposite of rushing.
Imagine a life where you didn't say yes to iffy clients or answered every email inquiry. Imagine a life where you have time to shop, create, and relax, and still have time to hustle. Imagine a life where you didn't feel guilty about it! Sounds great, right?
It's just that all this talk and content about productivity, hustling, and hacks has spun us into a never-ending circle of work, where we don't see the end of busyness. Where we create more and more work with every next assignment, every next yes, just the way you would become a hoarder if you never threw anything away and kept cluttering your space. This is a very unhealthy place to be, my friend. You deserve better.
Really. The sooner you realize you deserve better, the sooner you will be able to shed this impossible desire to do everything and be everyone. Only then will you be able to give 100% to the things that matter, and finally be the one who decides how fast or slow you *need* to go, regardless of what anyone else around you says.
It's your business. You determine how fast or slow it needs to grow. (tweet this)
There is no shame in slow growth. If you naturally operate at a faster pace, good for you, but if not, don't get too crazy with your plans! I've suffered enough unfinished projects and burnout seasons to be confident in recommending a slow, steady pace.
You can always come up with more questions, but my final one is:
Are you ready to own your answers?
Are you ready to ignore what everybody else in your industry does growth-wise and set your own rules? Are you ready to defend those rules when someone asks you? Finally, are you ready to stick to these rules when it seems like things are going too slow?